What attracts us to each other?

The Social Psychology of Attraction: why do we
befriend or fall in love with some people but not others?
What brings people together?
» According to social psychologists, there
are three major factors:
» 1. Proximity
» 2. Physical attractiveness
» 3. Similarity
Factor #1: Proximity
» We tend to develop relationships (both romantic and platonic) with
people close to us geographically: same neighborhood, sit nearby in
class, work in the same office, share the same parking lot, or eat in the
same dining hall.
» Mere exposure effect: repeated exposure to a stimuli increases our
liking of it; familiarity breeds fondness.
» Moreland and Beach study (1992)
» DeBruine study (2004)
» The evolutionary/adaptive reason: what was familiar was generally safe
and approachable.
» Gut-level prejudice against those who are different may be a primitive,
automatic, emotional response- it’s what we do with our knee-jerk
prejudice that matters- do we let it control our behavior, or do we
consciously monitor our feelings and act in ways that reflect our
conscious valuing of equality?
Bailenson study (2005)
What about the web?
» Internet-based
friendships and
relationships are
more likely to last
beyond 2 years than
those originated in
Factor #2: Physical attractiveness
» Hatfield’s University of Minnesota “Welcome Week” dance
study (1966)
» Appearance is the first filter we use to sort out people.
» Attractive people are judged by others as happier,
healthier, and more successful.
» Babies even prefer attractive faces!
» However, attractiveness doesn’t reliably predict how
happy or high a person’s self esteem is.
» Standards of beauty change with the times and culture:
nose piercings, foot binding, neck lengthening in Thailand
and Burma, etc.
Different standards of beauty vary by
What’s attractive? Icons of the 50s, 70s,
and today
A few other thoughts…
» Americans spend more
on beauty supplies than
on education and social
services combined.
» 12 million cosmetic
surgeries a year.
» More and more people
feel unhappy about their
An evolutionary perspective: Reproductive Value
The field of evolutionary psychology focuses on how human behavior leads to
the preservation of our species. Therefore, it should be no surprise that this field
takes the position that what we find attractive is fundamentally connected to
fertility. A landmark study was done, analyzing the average age of Playboy
models, who of course are chosen solely for their physical attractiveness. Here
is what that study found:
The peak age of fertility for women is 21-22 yrs old.
The average age of Playboy models: 21.3 years old.
Also, men tend to marry younger women:
1st marriage: 3 yr difference
2nd marriage: 5 yr difference
3rd marriage: 8 yr difference
Adolescent males prefer women who are slightly older.
Female fertility declines rapidly with age
Waist to hip ratio for healthy and fertile women: .67-.80; the lower the more
Factor #3: Similarity
» Research shows that “birds of a feather do tend to flock
» Friends and couples tend to share common attitudes,
beliefs, and interests (in addition to age, religion, race,
education, intelligence, economic status, etc.); though
there are certainly exceptions!
» Walter Lippmann: Love is best sustained when “lovers
love many things together, and not merely each other.”
A few other interesting
theories and details…
… do you think that these theories
hold up in the real world?
Reward theory of attraction
» We continue relationships that offer more rewards
than costs
» When a person is close in proximity, it costs less
time and effort to develop the relationship and
enjoy its benefits; attractive people are
aesthetically pleasing and associating with them is
socially rewarding; those with similar views reward
us by validating our own.
Reciprocal liking
» We tend to like those better who also
like us back.
» We feel better about ourselves when we
know that we are likable.
» When we feel good when we are
around somebody, we tend to report a
higher level of attraction toward that
Matching Hypothesis
» People tend to pick
partners who are
about equal in level
of attractiveness to
Parental investment theory
» Men tend to be more interested
in their partners’ youthfulness
and physical attractiveness
(reproductive value)
» Women, on the other hand,
tend to value partners’ social
status, wealth, and ambition,
because these are
characteristics of men who can
successfully provide for
» Rent this film for a great
example of this: “The Queen of
The evolution of romantic love
» Passionate love: aroused state of intense positive
absorption in another, at the beginning of a love
» Over time, passionate love becomes companionate
love: the deep affectionate attachment we feel for
those with whom our lives are intertwined.
» Keys: equity, self-disclosure.
» Click on this to learn about the Dutton/Aron study:
Additional links (if you want to learn more!)
The psychology of flirting: http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199303/the-biology-attraction
Participate in two online studies on facial attractiveness:
What do men and women really want? Read about a study involving “speed dating:”
The impact of pretty faces on the brain:
The Neuroscience of New Love: What does the brain look like when someone is newly in love?